Yom Kippur 5758
Call to Arms
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Yom Kippur, the ultimate day of repentance, has the Jewish nation
simultaneously praying, fasting and asking for forgiveness. It begins with
the somber, quiet, and melodious intonation of Kol Nidrei and ends with the
entire congregation shouting Hashem hu HaElokim (G-d is the Al-Mighty)
seven times after various requests of forgiveness. It seems that at the
time when our strength is waning our greatest and loudest pleas are spent.
Shouldn't we begin the day with the strong requests for forgiveness and
save the subdued prayers for when our bodies are weak from hunger and our
lips parched from lack of water?
Rav Eichenstein, the Ziditchover Rebbe, tells the following story:
One Friday, a man entered the study of the Tchortkover Rebbe with a request
that was very common in those days.
"My son was drafted into the army," the man began. "However, we have a way
out. On Sunday, we are going to a doctor who will falsely declare him
unfit for service. This way he will be spared certain misery, perhaps even
death in that terrible army. Rebbe," he asked, "I need your blessing that
he evade the draft."
The Rebbe quietly told him that Shabbos was nearing and he could not
concentrate on blessings. The man should return to him on Friday evening
after his tisch (ceremonious chasidic table).
The man did so. After most of the chasidim had left, the man repeated his
request, almost verbatim. Again the Rebbe was non-committal. "Return to
me after the morning service."
Unperturbed, the man noted that he would really like to resolve this matter
before Sunday morning.
Shabbos morning, after services, the man approached the Rebbe again.
Calmly he repeated the predicament. "Sunday morning I am going to a doctor
who will falsely declare my son unfit for military service. Please pray
that we will evade conscription." The Rebbe was not moved. Again, he
deferred until the afternoon.
At the third Shabbos meal, the scene repeated again, precisely the way it
had the previous three times. "I understand that you are leaving Sunday
morning. Come back to me late Saturday night," said the Rebbe. "By then I
will have an answer for you."
By this time, his Chasidim's curiosity was piqued. They had never seen
their Rebbe so reluctant to mete a blessing, especially when it was one
that would save a Jewish soul from the frightful Polish army.
Saturday night a large crowd gathered as the man approached with his
request. Frustrated and disgruntled, the man, once again, repeated his
story, almost verbatim, for the fifth time.
Immediately, the Rebbe sprung from his chair and began to shout. "What are
you asking me? Why would one even try to evade the service of our
wonderful country? How dare you ask me for a blessing of that sort? Your
son would make a fine soldier for our country. I wish him the best of luck
in the army!"
The man quickly scurried from the room and left town. The Chasidim stood
shocked and bewildered. Never had they heard such an uncharacteristic
outcry from the Rebbe.
"I will explain," said the Rebbe. "The man was a fraud. He had no son,
and if he did, he wanted him in the army. He was sent by the government to
test our loyalty. Thank G-d we passed the test."
"But, Rebbe!" cried the chasidim, "how did you know?"
"Simple," explained the Rebbe. "I watched the level of intensity. From
the moment he met me until tonight there was no increase in intensity nor
feeling of desperation with each request. The moment I heard his request
tonight and it contained no more passion or desperation than his first
request on Friday night, I knew he was a fraud."
We stand a whole entire day in prayer, and end with a ne'ilah prayer, after
nearly 24 hours of pleading. The litmus test of our sincerity comes as the
heavenly gates are being closed. As the sun begins to set, our pleas
should intensify. That crescendo assures our sincerity. It also should
assure us a Happy & Healthy Sweet New Year.
If you enjoy the weekly Drasha, now you can receive the best of Drasha in book form!
- from the Project Genesis bookstore - Genesis Judaica - at a very special price!